Residents’ concerns justified

Two questions jump out of the unenviable situation that has dogged residents of Shoemaker Circle in Portage Township for too long.

That area has been living with coal dust, coal trucks that residents say travel at excessive speeds, plus road destruction stemming from the high volume of truck traffic.

Amfire Mining Co.’s nearby operation is the source of the problems.

The two questions will remain valid, even if the residents’ concerns are quickly resolved.

The first of the two questions deals with Amfire’s responsibility – and the responsibility of any other company – to take notice of whether it is negatively impacting others. It can reasonably be asked why Amfire hasn’t gone out of its way to be a good neighbor, without having to be prodded to do so.

What exists is not invisible to Amfire officials’ eyes, just as it isn’t to those of approximately 50 Shoemaker Circle residents.

While Amfire is an asset through the jobs it provides and other jobs whose existence the coal operation supports, such as truckers’ and coal company suppliers’, that economic boost must not be at the expense of people who have put much of their resources and hard work into having and maintaining a home and property.

Residents and the coal operation can coexist, if Amfire and others, such as the truckers, take adequate steps to ease negative impacts on others.

Jake-brake laws have been enacted in many places in part because of some truckers’ indifference to communities’ rights to not be afflicted by excessive noise. Communities also have a right to not experience excessive dirt and costly infrastructure damage stemming from private enterprises.

The coal industry is an important economic component of this part of Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t give the industry unreasonable rights or privileges.

Which leads to the second question, which involves laws and their enforcement:

The question must be asked why Portage Township has not taken a proactive stance on Shoemaker Circle residents’ behalf before now.

Laws on the books should be enforced fairly and at all times. Any laws that the township chooses not to enforce should be repealed.

Township supervisors Chairman Bill Cooper and Supervisor Richard Olshavsky met with Amfire officials last month to discuss the Shoemaker issues emanating from the mining operation. Olshavsky has said the company is receptive to making some changes.

Possible remedies discussed include a dust fence around coal stacks, an electronic water-spraying system to lessen dust, an alternative truck route and numbering of trucks to help residents accurately identify habitual speeders.

Despite the meeting, some residents remain skeptical about Amfire’s commitment to address concerns. Amfire should be determined to prove that skepticism wrong.

Shoemaker residents and other township taxpayers who fear costs to the municipality and higher tax bills associated with the Amfire-related problems are right to be concerned.

The township’s enforcement of existing ordinances must be re-evaluated. Enforcement must be 24/7, not pick-and-choose, and Shoemaker Circle residents shouldn’t be satisfied until the township and Amfire make the right moves on their behalf.